Published on 2020/04/01

The EvoLLLution | The Killing of American Higher Education
It’s important while finding solutions, to hold the responsible parties accountable for the disaster they created.

The Dirty, Rotten, Crooked, Broken, Student Loan System and the Immoral Bankers, Brokers, Collectors, and Corrupt Politicians Who Make Billions Off of It While the Courts Garnish Wages and Destroy Lives

There Are Solutions

There are solutions beyond what is offered in the political rhetoric we hear from those running for office who do not understand how all the pieces of this crisis connect and those that do but either fight fixing it or only pretend to fix it to ensure  continued campaign contributions for themselves. So, whether we are dealing with a criminal in on the fix or someone who just doesn’t care enough to understand how it all works, it doesn’t matter.

As a baby boomer myself, I’ve heard my friends say things like “I paid for my education… These kids today are just lazy… They expect everything to be given to them… My kids worked three jobs and paid for their own education… Tell those damn kids to get off my lawn!” I don’t think they are mean or ignorant but rather misinformed. They compare their personal experiences to those of today’s students,  and it’s like comparing apples to horse shit–comparisons do not work. Times have changed, and they’ve especially changed for higher education. These student loan debtors are not lazy, or ungrateful or whiners or trying to cheat the system. They were preached by us, all of us, the importance of education and its necessity in being successful. We told them that  blindly, not understanding the manipulation that was going on behind the scenes. Remember how I started this piece with the politicians of the early 1970s and their view of youth then as pinko, commie, long-haired hippies? If you automatically assume today’s generations (millennials and Gen Z) to be lazy they expect everything to be given to them, then congratulations! Apparently, it’s your turn to take on the role of the small-minded, bigoted, American citizen.

At the moment, the Democratic presidential candidates have solutions to student debt that range from doing nothing to forgiving all debt. There’s a lot of room in between those two extremes, but thus far all proposed “fixes” have been partial and would only prolong the crisis, which concurrently prolongs corruption  Nothing is fixed, but the money keeps flowing to profiteers. Partial fixes suggested by recent political candidates include:

  1. Lower to no interest rates
  2. Changes in the bankruptcy code to allow private student loans to be discharged
  3. Free community colleges, vocational schools, and training programs for all
  4. Free Ccommunity colleges, vocational schools, and training programs on a sliding scale based on income
  5. Free education at all state schools based on income
  6. Free education at all state schools for everyone
  7. Government- funded savings accounts at birth created for every child at birth to be used to pay for education once they areat 18
  8. Federal grants to states who invest in public colleges
  9. Expand Pell grants tof $10,000 for low- income families
  10. Free education in exchange for service in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps
  11. Expand the currently broken public service loan forgiveness program
  12. Federal government to refinance the loans up to $27,000
  13. National service program that allows young people to join the military or aid programs addressing climate, community or infrastructure and receive a scholarship in exchange
  14. “Tweak” the current income-driven repayment system
  15. Raising the zero- dollar repayment threshold on borrowers earning 250% of the poverty line
  16. No interest accrual for three years
  17. Half of interest exempted
  18. Loans forgiven, tax-free, after 20 years of payments
  19. Undefined portion of loans forgiven, if on federal assistance, for three out of five years
  20. Zero funding for for-profit colleges
  21. Expanded GI Bill benefits that veterans can use to pay for their education
  22. Americans who commit to one year of public service would receive two years’ worth of college tuition -free. Those who commit to two years of service would have four -years paid for.
    1. Qualifying roles include, working as special education aides and teaching assistants, home health aides and nurses for nonprofit organizations and other jobs in the federal, state and local governments,
  23. Allowing the savings accounts (and tax benefits) of 529 colleges for job training, credentialing, licensing
  24. Free for those aged between 17 and to 24 who participate in public service.
  25. 60 percent of in-state tuition is covered, but if the borrower works for three years in-state, they would get their full in-state tuition bill covered
  26. Free for public school educators after they spend five years working in public schools
    1. Suspend all student loan payments while working for the entire time they work in public schools
    2. 20 percent of debit is forgiven for public school teachers each year they teach
  1. Eliminate all student debt regardless of current income
  2. Free college for anyone with an income under $25,000
  3. Forgive up to $50,000 of student loan debt for borrowers earning under $100,000
  4. Federal government buys all outstanding debt – borrowers repay 10 percent of income for ten10 years.
  5. Expanding loan forgiveness for borrowers who work in underserved communities

Only one candidate has mentioned the outrageous, unjustified cost of higher education itself and stated that it must be reined in. The following—all of it—is what must happen to get our educational system back to truly being the best in the world -–-not just the most expensive and costly.

  • Change the bankruptcy code to allow student loans, both federal and private, to be dischargeable again without the added burden of having to prove undue hardship. Bankruptcy is the single greatest mechanism that would right the educational market. When it was removed, those that removed it and encouraged its removal began making huge amounts of money, and the corrupt system we have today was born.
    • The vast majority of student loan debtors will not use this option because it’s still a terrible process to go through, but those who have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt caused by compounded interests may have no other option. Giving debtors $50,000 right off the bat gives the appearance of helping but only ensures continued corruption. The game continues and its dirty players continue to make tremendous amounts of money from the millions of borrowers whose student loan debt well exceeds $50,000.
  • All student loans currently not in default, deferment or forbearance should be recalculated from the original cost at zero percent interest.
    • Student loans must be recalculated at the original costs without additional interest charges. All monies already paid should be deducted from this number.
    • Establish a new formula for any remaining monthly payments that recognizes the true costs of living in today’s America. Borrowers must be able to afford car payments or transportation costs, a mortgage or rent, insurance and maintenance payments, food, savings and emergency funds a normal percentage. Living a normal, stable life has to be the baseline, and the collection agencies should answer to it. The current formulas make it so it’s impossible to consistently make payments, which is what is counted on so students go into default and interest gets jacked up again.
  • Establish a free public K-16 system, which would also include trade schools and apprentice programs. The education of a country’s citizens should be prioritized the same as any other national security interests.
    • Promote the value of alternate methods of education.
  • Traditional colleges and universities must be held accountable for their promises, costs, and fees.
    • Reinstate the gainful employment rule and expand it to all institutions regardless of nonprofit or for-profit status. This rule would require higher education institutions to prove their graduates can find gainful employment to maintain access to federal financial aid. It also requires that schools assess what their cost for debt loan would be to their earnings.
    • The total cost of a degree must be shown up front, including all fees.
  • All student loan debt must be discharged for students who acquired that debt from schools that have since gone out of business or had their accreditation revoked.
  • Cap the loan amount allowed to be borrowed and put toward a degree. Universities will have to meet the market prices rather than just passing on their wasteful financial practices to students.

Epilogue

President Johnson’s war on poverty included funding to help those without the financial resources to attend college. The theory being that the higher the education one pursues, regardless of degree or skill/trade, the more likely they will bet able to support themselves, their families, and our country. It was a very worthy dream, but the irony is that this very program, which was established to help our disenfranchised, has made them the largest holders of student loan debt.

The old sons-of-bitches politicians quietly removed the single tool that would force financial corrections in the higher education markets: bankruptcy. This decision was the single greatest cause of today’s crisis but also of the billions of dollars made by corrupt politicians and the student loan industry (which is why congress kept it in place.  They and their masters are making too much money to want to change it). It locked the metaphorical cell door on the congressionally made student loan debtor’s prison.

Congress expanded financial aid regardless of income/need and then created a quasi-governmental corporation (Sallie Mae) to handle the huge increase in student loans being made as a result. By doing so,  they established a buffer between themselves and the corruption,  allowing them to look you in the eye and lie, all the time with their pockets open . From there, dozens of corrupt collection/servicing companies began making billions of dollars off of student loans every year.

For-profit colleges began to crawl out of the woodwork and grew exponentially with all this new money to be made. Many of these schools, as well as traditional nonprofits, were less concerned with quality education than they were with making money for themselves and their shareholders. As long as the students could borrow more (and never be able to declare bankruptcy), they were going to charge more.

The student loan industry continued misinforming students of their options and used unfair formulas to determine what the monthly payments would be. By doing this, they ensured defaults, which meant more interest and larger amounts to be paid back (and students still can’t declare bankruptcy on loans in the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars because of compounded interest).

Universities and colleges, having no real oversight, mismanaged their institutions and then covered up those mistakes by inflating tuition costs and tacking on semi-hidden fees.

The financial industry, seeing the huge profits to be made, applied financial instruments similar to those used in the mortgage crisis to student loan debt. The more the student borrowed, the more they defaulted, they more money to be made from them.

This trillion-dollar industry, created by congress, now benefits congress. They are also the only ones that can change it unless the judges begin take notice of the current system’s insanity and fraud. It’s always about the money, folks, isn’t it? We hear the people we’ve elected speak of honor and ethics and morals. They tell us how they are helping us and how important we are, but the reality is that our importance ends the moment a winner is announced in an election.

Together we must cross all political and social lines and come together as Americans to hold politicians and schools accountable now and for the future of our country.

Author’s Note: My Story

I defaulted on my school loan during the mortgage crisis of 2009 (I had to choose between house payments or student loan payments). The loan servicer called me and said I had to pay them $83,000 within five days after agreeing to default. No other option was ever given to me, and I sure as hell didn’t have $83,000–ever!  Years later I was contacted by both FH Cann and Navient and presented with a bill of $139,000. I said no way was that what I owed. I was told I could either agree to that amount and sign the papers stating that it was correct, or they would come after me in court and garnish my wages. Fear. Shame. Embarrassment. Garnishment involving my new employer. I signed. In other contexts, it would be called extortion, but not in the student loan industry. I signed. I’m on a forbearance at the moment, but my payment plan is $818.00 per month for the next 29 years (I’m 58 years old now). That means the total cost of my $31,000 loan will be over $280,000. I have nothing but social security for retirement, and I know they’ll come after that and legally take that too. I’ve made poor, regrettable financial choices in my life and would like to start over by declaring bankruptcy, like many have before me, including our current president (six business bankruptcies). But that would limit the profits the student loan system reaps  and puts into its puppet politicians’ pockets, so we all continue to be fucked. Even if you’re not in this position, please know they are still fucking you over, too, because any system that allows only the ultra-rich to get richer leaves anyone else with crumbs, if anything at all. A corrupt system hurts us all, and the fact that it’s so blatantly exists, openly flaunted and its fraudulent practices celebrated dissolves the very fabric of our democracy. It cannot be left to destroy us any longer.

I’ve lived a life of shame, anxiety and depression for many years as student loan companies would call my home, my work, my family members. They had robot calls leaving messages about my debt on my boss’s phone. I’ve written to my congressmen, senators, governor, attorney general… And  only one thing has changed: M=me. I will not allow these motherfuckers to hold me down anymore. This is my story, but I know there are millions–millions more!– just like mine. The shame is not on us but on them. Fight! Fight! Fight!

 

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